Mental health: staff working in talking therapies

19 December 2017
What was claimed

There are over 2,000 more people employed in talking therapies.

Our verdict

One estimate says at least 2,850 more people worked in IAPT services (a flagship talking therapy programme for those with anxiety and depression) from August 2012 to April 2015. This does not include other NHS talking therapies.

What was claimed

The increase in the number number of talking therapies staff is closer to 3,000 than 2,700.

Our verdict

One estimate says at least 2,850 more people worked in IAPT services (a flagship talking therapy programme for those with anxiety and depression) from August 2012 to April 2015. This does not include other NHS talking therapies.

“2,700 more employed in talking therapies”

Jeremy Hunt, 8 November 2017

“As far as I can tell it’s actually closer to 3000 more in talking therapies - an INCREASE on the 2700 you claimed.”

Ralf Little, 13 November 2017

“And here’s… the increase in talking therapies staff of over 2000”

Jeremy Hunt, 20 November 2017

The NHS in England has a number of “talking therapy” services, and we haven’t been able to find an overall figure for the number of staff working in them.

Mr Hunt is referring to the flagship Improving Access to Psychological Therapies programme in England. This programme, which started in 2008, focuses in particular on talking therapies for people with anxiety and depression.

It’s possible to see an increase of nearly 3,000 more staff in talking therapies in both the specific programme Jeremy Hunt is talking about, and in separate data for NHS psychotherapy staff.

We haven’t been able to reach Ralf Little to confirm what data he is referring to. Separate data for NHS psychotherapy staff (including some but not all who are part of the IAPT programme) can be used to show an increase of closer to 3,000.

Neither source is perfect, but we’ve found no reason to doubt that talking therapy staffing is increasing.

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Talking therapies

Talking therapies are a range of “evidence based treatments” that involve talking to a therapist. These can involve Cognitive Behaviour Therapy, counselling, and mindfulness, for example.

Improving Access to Psychological Therapies is a programme which began in 2008, providing psychotherapy treatment to people with anxiety and depression. Most of this treatment is based on a range of talking therapies, although some of it uses books and computers.

567,000 people referred to IAPT finished a course in 2016/17.

IAPT services are not the only talking therapy services available on the NHS. The mental health charity Mind told us that “talking therapies” is an umbrella term for all sorts of services. The NHS’s page on talking therapies refers to multiple “talking therapy” treatments. Some of these can be, but aren’t always, provided through IAPT.

Unfortunately we don’t have any data for all staff working in talking therapies.

How does Jeremy Hunt get his number?

In November, Jeremy Hunt claimed that 2,700 more people are employed in talking therapies. When later providing links to his sources he quoted the number as “over 2,000”—the Department of Health told us that this is a generalised way of expressing the same 2,700 figure.

The two NHS reports that Mr Hunt linked to are about IAPT services in England in a period between 31 August 2012 and 30 April 2015. No more recent report on IAPT staff has been published.

In October, the government said the number of staff had increased by 2,278 between 2012 and 2015, referring to the reports cited by Mr Hunt. The statement has since been corrected to 2,728—very close to Mr Hunt’s claim of 2,700.

These figures are headcounts, meaning each individual is counted rather than the amount of time they spend at work. “Whole time equivalent” (WTE) figures give a better indication of staff availability. Under WTE, two half-time workers would add up to one full-time role, and so count as one member of staff. But the 2012 report only provides figures for headcount, so we can’t compare the change in the whole time equivalent workforce.

The government’s 2015 figure also excludes employment support workers, who were included in the total figure for 2012—so the comparison is not exact.

The 2015 report does give a figure for these workers separately—127 staff—but only as whole time equivalent.

The WTE figure for 2015 suggests that, once we count employment support workers, the total increase in staff is at least 127 more than 2,728, so it could be up to at least 2,855. This could be what Mr Little was referring to.

2,855 should be treated as a slightly rough figure: this data may not be entirely accurate, and each year is missing data from some service providers.

How does Ralf Little get his number?

He could either be referring to the higher number for the IAPT staff, or it’s possible he is referring to separate data—based on NHS staff records—for the number of “psychotherapy” staff. It’s possible to find increases of at least 2,800 staff (WTE) with this data, depending on the dates used.

This covers a wider range of services than just IAPT, but is still not all of the “talking therapies” listed by the NHS. It also has less complete data on the IAPT workforce than the reports Mr Hunt was referring to, according to NHS Digital.

Correction 8 January 2018

We've clarified in the claim box that Ralf Little was talking about the increase in the number of talking therapies staff, not the overall number.

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